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Social Media Scammers Targeting Airline Passengers

DALLAS — Holidaymakers have been warned about a surge in fake social media accounts used by fraudsters to impersonate airlines and steal personal information. This alarming trend, highlighted by both Standard.co.uk and ITV.com, shows scammers infiltrating customer service channels on social media platforms like Twitter, now known as X.

A recent study by consumer group Which? has revealed that fraudsters have adapted their tactics, making it easier to infiltrate genuine customer queries and complaints. These imposters pose as airline customer service agents, responding to messages directed at official airline accounts. By engaging with customers, they solicit personal information under the guise of resolving issues.

Wizz Air UK  G-WUKH Airbus A321-231(WL). Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways

The Tactics of the Fraudsters

Which? found that scammers impersonate major airlines with ease, creating fake accounts that mimic the design of official pages but with subtle differences. For example, a fake account might have a name like @easyJet10011 instead of @easyJet, or pose as an airline staffer, such as "Mike from WizzAir." These accounts often respond faster than legitimate ones and can disrupt ongoing conversations between customers and airlines, making them harder to detect.

An easyJet (U2) spokesperson emphasized the need for vigilance, advising customers to only engage with their official channel, identifiable by a gold verification badge. Similarly, Wizz Air (W6) reported an increase in fake accounts and is actively working to report them.

The fraudulent activities pose significant risks to passengers. After establishing contact, scammers may ask for phone numbers and other personal details via direct messages, potentially leading to identity theft and bank account fraud. The consumer watchdog Which? noted that this problem extends beyond easyJet, with fake accounts impersonating all major UK airlines, including British Airways (BA), Jet2 (LS), Ryanair (FR), TUI Airways (BY), and Virgin Atlantic (VS).

One Which? researcher found that after posting a query to W6's official account, two fake accounts responded almost immediately. Both used similar language, apologizing for the inconvenience and requesting a WhatsApp number for further assistance.

TUI Airways Boeing 787-8, G-TUID. Photo: Rohan Ramalingam/Airways

Calls for Stricter Regulations

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, described the situation as part of an "epidemic of fraud," calling for stronger enforcement actions. She urged social media platforms, particularly X, to be held to higher standards and for regulatory bodies like Ofcom to impose fines on firms that fail to comply with the law.

The issue of fake accounts has been exacerbated by the slow response of social media platforms. Which? reported that most fake accounts flagged to X remain active, highlighting the platform's inadequacy in addressing the problem.

For now, passengers are advised to verify the authenticity of social media accounts by checking for links on official websites, examining the account's creation date, and reviewing the number of followers. This due diligence is crucial to avoid falling victim to these sophisticated scams.

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